After months of uncertainty, President Alberto Fernández announced this morning that he will not run for a second term as president, he announced in a video posted to social media this morning, with reactions pouring in from across the political spectrum.
Amid intense infighting within Frente de Todos (FdT) — which in part led to this week’s sharp rise of the dollar exchange rate — Fernández’s withdrawal is a watershed moment for the governing coalition to define their candidates and policies in the run-up to the elections.
“This is an opportunity for the ruling party to realign itself. This could be an escape valve for all the visible internal tensions and find new ways for a dialogue heading into the elections,” said Juan Courel, head of the political consulting firm Alaska Comunicación.
“I personally think that his candidacy was the main obstacle for internal dialogue, not only when it came to his role in defining the ballot but also for his government’s actions.”
The president’s withdrawal comes amid FdT political maneuvers and a key player on the Peronist political chessboard is Vice President Cristina Fernández Kirchner — no relation to the president. The relationship between the two has been distant in the second half of his term.
“His candidacy wasn’t competitive internally so in that sense it doesn’t really change anyone’s chances,” said Courel. “What it does is make plain how central Cristina is to any electoral strategy. No candidate has enough votes by themselves, not even the president.”
It was in fact Kirchner that announced Fernández’s unexpected candidacy in 2019 as the Peronist candidate against right-wing incumbent President Mauricio Macri.
“In the entire Peronist spectrum, the only one who can put everything in order is the vice president,” Courel said. “She’s usually very reserved about her decisions but when she announces them, they tend to be surprising.”
Fernández withdrew his candidacy on the same day that the Justicialist Party (PJ) is scheduled to define Peronism’s electoral strategy, which is happening later this afternoon. The looming meeting also exerted political pressure on Fernández to define one way or the other — the deadline for parties to define candidates is June 24.
“This could facilitate the rest of his administration and I hope, given the direction the country is taking, that it provides relief for the government’s internal situation to overcome this crisis,” Courel said.
Another politician that political analysts are considering is libertarian presidential hopeful Javier Milei, head of the far-right coalition La Libertad Avanza. Milei featured prominently in the media this week as his proposal to “dollarize” Argentina’s economy — i.e. abolish the peso in favor of US tender — has gained traction amid sharp rises in the parallel exchange rates.
Paola Zuban and Gustavo Córdoba of the Zuban Córdoba consulting firm told the Herald that they have noticed clear electoral progress made by Milei across the country.
“The political system needs to understand the times we are living in,” they said. “They need to realize that Milei is a challenge not only to politicians but also democracy in general.”
Zuban and Córdoba also said that, unlike previous Argentine generations, voters under 30 have never experienced hyperinflation before and are expected to represent 52% of the vote — according to the consulting firm, this accounts for Milei’s increased popularity.
“The times are scary — an ‘all-inclusive’ punishment vote is on the way,” they said. “A dark storm is on the way and politics doesn’t have the tools to face it”.
There has also been something of a courtship dance between Milei and certain politicians from the opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (JxC), particularly former President Mauricio Macri, and some consider that the libertarian could reach the second stage of voting in the presidential election.
Multiple analyses this week predicted a bank run and a massive devaluation if Milei wins — one consulting firm predicted a USD$ 1 to AR$ 9,994 exchange rate.
“In general terms, many get closer to Milei due to anger and because he represents an explicit punishment to the government of the past few years, not because they believe in his agenda,” Courel said. “If politics were to give an answer to those demands with concrete improvements or explanations that satisfy their malaise, that would probably make Milei lose power.”
Fernández stepping back could make that happen, in theory. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t troubled waters ahead.
“The [presiden’ts withdrawal] wipes the map clean, makes it simpler,” Courel said. “But it’s still the map being used to navigate in the middle of a storm and a situation in which, when we look at the horizon, we see nothing.”